There's not a whole lot that I can say about Richie Records that I haven't already imparted endlessly throughout the pages of TB. Winner of the coveted "Label of the Year" trophy in the editor's 2009 year-end round-up, RR//TT is one of the elite record slinging companies of this modern age. It's quite refreshing to see a label more concerned with quality over quantity in these days of endless singles clubs, collectorscum vanity pressings and assembly line-like generic release churners. Every record Richie releases is nothing but Grade A prime cut rock'n'roll. He makes 'em count. The label's diversity is also something to behold, touching base with some of my favorite genres/bands of recent vintage. Whether it's the greatest in modern pop via Home Blitz, flaming guitar blaze from Birds of Maya and crew, cutting edge punk rock from America's Greatest Band the Homostupids, home brewed Philly talents like young Kurt Vile, FNU Ronnies and Watery Love or his association with legends like Brainbombs, Kiss and Clockcleaner, there's something for everyone on the roster, and the wise man enjoys it all. Speaking of wise men, one of them once told me a label can essentially be judged by the person running it, and there are few finer human beings that I've encountered in our little underground rock "scene" than Richard Charles, a true gentleman with a ton of class. As part of Terminal Boredom's ongoing series of record label profiles, I can think of no better label that sums up all that I think is wonderful about modern music and one of the labels that keeps me interested in the game whenever I grow weary of the same old same old, if you know what I mean. Every release is something to look forward to. Richie and I chatted via the internet last month, crushed some brews long distance and he gave us some candid insight into the inner workings of the RR//TT empire. Please enjoy and be sure to check out the discography page as well.
TB: So, the obvious first question is, how, when and why did you decide to start Richie Records//Testostertunes?
Richie: Yo buddy, thanks for asking. I started doing Richie Records//TestosterTunes in about 2005. Me and a couple of my idiot friends had a band and we recorded some music in this bizarre building that once stood in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia. At about this time I was joking about the possibility of starting a label. Some terrible names were tossed around. Perhaps the worst one was "Richie Records", a reference to a man long associated with the Philadelphia Phillies named Richie Ashburn. He played centerfield for the Phils in 1950 when the Whiz Kids won the NL Pennant, and he was a pipe-smoking broadcaster for the club when I was a pup. Next thing I knew, my buddy Max had dubbed a couple of a cassettes from the music that we had recorded in Chinatown and it was called ďA Handy MagicianĒ by Violent Students and it said ďRichie Records #1Ē on it. After a few more missteps, releasing some cassettes of little quality, I heard a couple of tunes on a CDR by a buddy from Cleveland. It was appropriately dumb and advanced and it had a great attitude and Steve-O called it 'The Brutal Birthday EP' by Homostupids. I had a little bit of cash to throw away, so I pressed it as a one-sided single. Another buddy of mine named Hawk Krall was kind enough to draw the portrait of Richie Ashburn that serves as the labelís logo. Anyway, anyone whoís heard that record either realizes that it kicks ass or is an absolute lunkhead.
TB: How did the Testostertunes part of the name come about? Which came first? Were they separate entities at some point?
Richie: I think that I had considered just changing the name to TestosterTunes. Over time I just started to refer to the label as Richie Records//TestosterTunes. I thought that the label needed a name that was more descriptive, and I was and continue to be focused on putting out stuff thatís macho.
TB: Do you have any mission statement or specific criteria when looking for bands for the label? Do you get a lot of demos, or do you pretty much work with bands you know? Have you specifically "gone after" any band for a record?
Richie: No mission statement at all. No way. The truth is that itís all stuff that made its way to my stereo that I enjoyed and that I knew that no other person or label would release. Iíve been fortunate that a few hundred people were interested enough to buy each record so I can keep the thing going. I canít imagine that anyone else would have released that 'stupids single or the Birds of Maya double LP or the Factorymen LP. No one outside of a few friends gave a shit about the FNU Ronnies until that single came out. Those guys were buddies and I saw their first few gigs and immediately wanted to help them get out a single. For a while my buddy Kurt Vile wanted me to put out a single for him. I denied him for months and months, telling him that it wouldnít be appropriate because he didnít really have any testosterone in his tunes. We went back and forth for a while and then The Violators really came together and I convinced him to let me put out some new music and we did "The Hunchback EP".
In the case of "Out of Phase", I really went after it. Iíve been a big fan since that first single with the big eyeball came out. Iím not any kind of power-pop devotee, but Home Blitz has some pretty great qualities that are too big for whatever genre they get lumped into. Daniel let me hear the tracks as soon as he completed mixing it, I listened to it a few dozen times, and I began calling him a few times a day to try to convince him to let me release it. He finally caved.
Anyway, I never stalk a band or anything like that. I really only get involved with people that I already know and that Iím absolutely sure are not total dickwads. Iím happy to receive and listen to music that people send me, but it doesnít happen very often and Iím never looking for hot new acts. In fact, Iím looking forward to the day when Iím no longer interested in music and I donít have to deal with the label anymore.
TB: What pressing plant are you using and/or which ones have you used? Any recommendations or bad experiences? Do you use anyone specific for mastering?
Richie: Iíve used a handful of the pressing plants in the US with mixed results. Iíve had the best results with Bill Smith Custom Records. It probably costs a little more than some other plants, but thereís no headaches dealing with those guys and the vinyl is appropriately thick and sounds great. And Prairie Cat Mastering in Illinois is equally professional and approachable. Never had a problem, always sounds faithful to the master, itís easy to get an intelligent person on the phone, and the turnaround is way fast.
TB: Where do you get your sleeves done? Again, any recommendations or advice?
Richie: Hamlett Printing in Tennessee is real cool for paper sleeves and theyíre very accomodating to those of us who are not tech-savvy. They did the "Brutal Birthday" sleeves and you can admire their work on several titles on the My Mindís Eye label. Stoughton is reliable as well. For silk-screened covers, Neil Burke at Monoroid is the guy. He printed t-shirts for me as well. Iíve been fortunate that a good buddy deals with the specifics of the art direction, I just give a little advice and write the check.
TB: What is the standard pressing amount for Richie//TT releases? What has been the best seller? The worst?
Richie: I try my best to estimate the reasonable number of people in this world who want to hear these tunes. Usually, itís about 500 people so I press 500 copies. I donít want to pander to some nebulous collector market, but I also donít have the room to store unsold records. All the records that Iíve released kick ass in one way or another, and I assume that anyone who owns them listens to them regularly. If not, go trade them in at the record store.
I guess that the KV record has been the best seller. My man has some fans in this world, and I was fortunate enough to put out his early music that sounds the best to my ears. The Violators are truly a great band. Other than that, thereís about a thousand copies of the "Brutal Birthday" EP floating around, a thousand copies of "Out of Phase" on vinyl, 500 copies of 'Cleanerís "Frogrammer", 500 "Meat" 45 by FNU Ronnies. Thereís 330 copies of Watery Loveís "Debut 45". Thereís just a handful of those early cassette releases because nobody gives a shit about cassettes and thereís no reason that they should. And I try to just do black vinyl because colored vinyl doesnít sound any better and it usually looks more stupid.
TB: Are there any specific record labels you took as an influence or inspiration, or whose model/catalog you've tried to mirror?
Richie: Well Iím a fan of the Back Ta Basics model. That guy cranked out tons of releases with little quality control in terms of design or audio. I originally wanted Richie Records//TestosterTunes to resemble that label. However, I donít really have the commitment, and the world doesnít have the fans for me to put out demos pressed on vinyl and live records and tapes with xeroxed covers by all the bands that Iíd like to. Also, Tom Lax of Siltbreeze has always been helpful and heís patiently given me lots of good advice. Heís sent me in the right direction for a lot of production and distribution help and is always good company. I used to corner him at the The Philadelphia Record Exchange and heíd have to put down his crossword puzzle to answer my stupid questions. But I donít have any type of blueprint to follow. I just try to put out stuff that I like and I try to make it look good. At some point I realized that thereís a few hundred people out there who will just listen to just about anything, and if I can find those people, itíll work out. Also, I put out only excellent music.
TB: So, I take it Richie is a one-man operation, or do you have any interns or helpers? Do you handle all of the mailorder yourself? How much time a week do you spend on doing label stuff?
Richie: Yeah I handle most of the work myself. I work at the Philadelphia Brewing Company and my boss lets me use an underused part of the building to store records and deal with all my shipping. My buddy Max helps out with handling mailorder when it gets overwhelming. Usually when I have a new release and the people are out there paypal-ing like crazy to get their hands on the latest slab, I bring in Max for a couple of hours and we get it done. And I work full time, so I end up doing some work in the evening and trying to get everything else done on one of my days off. Also, my pal Jason handles all art and design issues. Heís the art director for Richie Records//TestosterTunes. This is all very interesting.
TB: Let's talk about your roster a bit. I don't know if anyone will be too familiar is Violent Students. Can you tell us a little about the band? Is this what you were up to pre-Cleaner?
Richie: We started Violent Students because we were tired of Clockcleaner being the only good band in Philadelphia at that time. We had some free time and some beer and we didnít feel like having Cleaner play all the time. So Sharko, Max, and I would get together, get blasted, and kind of vamp on HC breakdowns. It started out just bass, drums, and vocals but then we invited some guitar players. At one time or another Andy Giles, Jim Winters, and Lea Cho played guitar with the Students. We played live a handful of times. On a good night we probably sounded pretty good to some ears, but usually it was just kind of a throbbing bucket of shit. We were still better than most of the stupid bands that we played with. And we were always the most handsome band of the evening. Usually we just kind of jammed on Friday nights. One night after recording "Towelhead" we stumbled into some party in a tiny apartment in Center City and some charged punk bands were playing in the kitchen. We ran into a tense few moments with a guy wearing a Bulldoze t-shirt. No joke.
TB: I saw Birds of Maya live, and they were absolutely smokin'. I think I overheard some story that these dudes are all auto mechanics or some shit? Is that how they got so heavy? Where did you find them?
Richie: I donít think that any of them are auto mechanics, but theyíre all often smokiní. Those guys have been at it for years and I always thought that they were kind of silly. Like, they would always play some bubbliní blues thing with a lot of tasteless guitar on top of it. I guess that I eventually started to enjoy bubbliní blues and tasteless guitar. Those guys are too great for this world though. Theyíre really casual about absolutely every facet of the band, but theyíve been playing with each other for so long and thereís a real unit. They usually just donít even look at each other. Theyíre always staring at their own instruments and theyíre totally possessed. Live, thereís nothing like 'em. And if they start out quiet, then youíre in for a real ride. Over the past year or so, all types of greasy weirdos have been crawling out of the woodwork to see them play. These cretins get all worked up and then they push up front to swing their filthy hair around. Theyíre not all friends or anything. Itís a few dozen maniacs from across the Tri-State area who are independently extremely enthusiastic and they pack themselves into whatever shithouse is necessary to see Birds of Maya at one of their rare live appearances.
TB: You released a tour single for Birds of Maya as well, how many copies was that? And what can you tell us about this Harmonica Dan fella?
Richie: Youíre talking about ďRegulationĒ by Birds of Maya and Harmonica Dan. I think that we did 400 copies of that one. That one is a focused anthem, unlike the relentless pummeling of "Ready To Howl". Iíve actually got some left, but I need to get more covers printed. Dan is a real great guy who has worked at the Philadelphia Record Exchange for as long as I can remember. Heís great to have at any party and heís a very enthusiastic member of any audience. I understand that in the late Seventies he was the best harmonica player in Key West. Heís shared the stage with a lot of the more delicate acts in town...Jack Rose, Meg Baird, and this total freaker named Darren Finizio. Heís even gotten up there to blow with Endless Boogie. Heís also got a group called Boogie Witch and heís front and center for The Mega-Jam Booze Band. I suppose that heís the go-to harmonica player on the East Coast.
TB: What is the Mega-Jam Booze Band? Sounds heavy. Are you a member? A future Richie Records release perhaps?
Richie: Mega-Jam is a bunch of buddies who get together to knock back a few and to play one song at a time. The core of the group are the members of Birds of Maya, a tall bassist named Chris Smith, Max from Watery Love, and Harmonica Dan. Many of the finer musician-types in Philadelphia have been a part of Mega-Jam at one time or another: Sharko, Kurt Vile, Jesse Trbovich, and Willie Lane. When I play with Ďem, Iím a member of the guitar section. Mega-Jam usually chooses a tune to cover, and thatís the song that weíll play. Notable covers include ďRoadhouse BluesĒ, ďGloriaĒ, ďProud MaryĒ, and ďSplish SplashĒ. I donít intend to release any Mega-Jam tunes on Richie Records, but weíre open to invitations from other labels. Or maybe weíll print em up on Mega-Jam Booze Records or something.
TB: How do you know the FNU Ronnies? I thought they were great live, but man, those guys look SLEAZY. Are they broken up now?
Richie: Well yeah me and the Ronnies all worked together at a moving company for a few years. I guess that some of those guys look sleazy, but theyíre all teddy bears. I imagine that Iíve seen Ďem as many times as anybody, and when theyíre good, theyíre really good. They could play really relentlessly. Some nights though, it seemed like they were going to kill themselves or each other or everyone in the room. Somehow they were always on the verge of absolute insanity. They have the kind of tension that any worthwhile band has. They probably kind of hate each other, ya know? Maybe thereís an ideal amount of drugs that they should be on and sometimes they went too far. Or sometimes the guitar amp wouldnít work right. Anyway, they seem to be on hiatus or limited activity as Jim has lived in the Bay Area for a while. But he will periodically surface in Philadelphia and I understand that they have a full-length in the can. The stuff I heard sounds pretty great.
TB: What made you think releasing a Factorymen LP was a good idea? Do you have any idea how Steve comes up with this stuff or what it all means?
Richie: Yeah, releasing that one was one of the best ideas that Iíve ever had. "Shitman" is exactly the type of record that I try to get involved with: it kicks a lot of ass. That tune ďBlank DreamsĒ is probably the hardest song that came out that year. And I donít really give a shit how Steve comes up with it, Iím just happy that he sends it to me. I especially donít stop to consider what it means. Anyway, that record is a favorite and I think that Steve is working on some new stuff. Iíd like to think that Iím first in line to release any Factorymen music. But itís hard to tell.
TB: Do you have any reply to the comment Brace Belden of MRR made about Factorymen, basically saying anyone who thought that record was good was just kissing Peffer's and/or your ass?
Richie: Sorry Rich. Iím not interested in this question. A wise man once told me "don't argue with fools".
TB: Way to keep it classy. So, I'm going to try and stay away from Clockcleaner questions, but I have to ask: What's Karen up to these days?
Richie: Last I heard, Karen was down south studying the viola.
TB: The Watery Love "Debut 45" made quite a stir around these parts. Please describe the line-up and how the band came about. What does the future hold for this outfit? Another 45 hopefully? Does Philly dig you guys at all?
Richie: Sure, Watery Love is Max Milgram, Meg Baird, and me, Richie Charles. The three of us were looking for a better way to spend our Friday nights, so we got together and worked out some songs and played some gigs and recorded a record. Weíve had three different handsome bass players at one time or another: Kurt Vile, Dan DiMaggio, and Russ Waterhouse. One night our buddy Maria did a great job filling in on drums when Meg had to play at Carnegie Hall. Our future doesnít look all that bright, but weíll probably record a few more tunes and issue another 45. I canít say that Philadelphia particularly digs us, but it tolerates us well enough.
TB: Has the label got any local attention/press in Philadelphia? How have the label and the Philly bands you've worked with been received locally?
Richie: The city seems to be a little more receptive than it used to be. In the early days, Iíd sell a couple records at the stores in town and theyíd sit there for a while. Meanwhile, Iíd be mailing them all over the US and into some other countries. And I printed up some t-shirts a little while ago and my buddies tell me that they get all types of compliments when they wear Ďem around town. The local press has been mildly receptive to my work lately. All the bands get respect. Birds of Maya, Kurt Vile and Home Blitz can usually count on a nod from one of the Weeklies if theyíve got a show. The Philadelphia Weekly just gave some space to Mike Polizze of Birds of Maya and Purling Hiss.
TB: Were you born and raised in Philly? What do you love the most living there and what are some advantages/disadvantages for running a label and being in a band there?
Richie: Well I was born and raised in the suburbs north of Philadelphia. And since then Iíve bounced all over the civilized corners of the city. Never lived in West Philadelphia though. That place is for alien weirdos and silly no-accounts. I guess that the town has been as good as any other for putting out records and playing music. Weíve occasionally been able to find suitable practice spaces and thereís a couple of worthwhile places to play. Itís been good for the label I guess. Thereís a handful of stores that are easy to deal with and run by reasonable people: The Record Exchange, Beautiful World, and AKA come to mind.
Music in Philadelphia in the past few years is probably the best itís ever been. Definitely the best in my memory. Thereís a handful of bands and people making killer tunes. At this point, you can go to a gig and itís possible that more than one band on the bill isnít completely full of shit. I certainly never intended to start a Philadelphia-centric label, but itís kind of worked out that way. In addition to the fine artists that Iíve worked with, weíve got Willie Lane, Meg Baird, Andy Giles, The War on Drugs, Mary Lattimore and some others. Serpent Throne is a solid heavy metal outfit. The Strapping Fieldhands have been playing again. Iíve even gone to see Puerto Rico Flowers a few times. Besides, Blues Control moved to town last year. Blues Control used to be the only worthwhile music from New York, so it was a real pleasure when they decided to relocate to Philadelphia. In fact, late one night Russ explained that the US is the greatest music nation in the world, and Philadelphia is the best music town in the country.
TB: You obviously have a connection/kinship with Cleveland and it's many wonderful inhabitants. One of my favorite places/people as well, it has a very unique charm and attitude. How has "Clev-o" influenced you and your music/label?
Richie: Sure, Cleveland is great. Iíve spent more time in that town than I care to remember. Clockcleaner played a lot of gigs there, most of Ďem with the Homostupids. I spent a lot of late nights sipping bottles of Burning River Pale Ale in Steve Pefferís living room watching stupid movies. One particularly shitty time, I had to stay there for about a week during the Easter holiday. But I never took a bath in that house. The place doesnít have a shower, just a bath tub. Totally disgusting. Iíve also spent a lot of money at My Mindís Eye, potentially the finest record store on earth. Charles is a good bud and itís always great to check in with him. More recently, Now Thatís Class has been a great place to drink. Paulís an excellent host and heís got a real pro live room for such a low-key place. But to answer your question, I canít say that the town of Cleveland and the fine creeps who live there have been a huge influence. Obviously, Iíve put out some great 'Stupids and Factorymen records and Iíll be doing a Brainwashed Youth single, but I canít really say that Cleveland has been a big influence on my label. The town has been good to me though, and I like to think that Iíve been pretty good to Cleveland.
TB: What are your five favorite Philly bands or records of all-time?
Richie: Well, the truth is that Philadelphia has not produced a lot of great bands. As for old stuff, the only band that gets any play from me is YDI. That "Place in the Sun" record is totally relentless and just about up to par with things that were happening in other American cities at the time. Iím also a fan of a rap singer named Freeway, but thatís not really useful to this interview. Truly though, right now is better for Philadelphia rock music than any time. And Iím not going to rank stuff that I put out or people who are my drinking buddies.
TB: Who are your five favorite Philadelphia athletes of all time?
Richie: Hey, thatís tough. Five names that come to mind are Reggie White, Mike Schmidt, Joe Frazier, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz. I thought it was cool when Jim McMahon was here briefly to fill in as quarterback when Scrambliní Randall got hurt. McMahon had cool style and he wore a tinted visor on his helmet. Iím not the most obsessive sports fan that youíll meet though. There was a good twelve years that I wasnít interested in sports at all. I was a fan as a kid and I played some baseball and some football, but then I heard Black Flag and my interests shifted.
TB: What is upcoming for the rest of 2010 and further for the label? Is it true you're doing a Brainwashed Youth LP?
Richie: Up next will be a record called "Hissteria" by Purling Hiss. Itís a pretty heavy head nodder and it kind of sounds like the Stooges if they were from the future. Itís full of sleazy blues and wild, fried solos. And after that will be a single, not an LP, by Brainwashed Youth. Itís called "The Trilogy". I was fortunate enough to see them play a few years ago in some dump in South Philadelphia. I think that they played early in the night and they stole the show. Very cool ham-fisted punk rock music and the drummer holds his sticks like tennis rackets. The PA didnít work very well that night, so I didnít realize that they were British until much later. Iím also planning to finally follow through and release a record called "Party Addiction" by Violent Students. The music for that one was recorded years back at our final gig. Iíve got some other ideas, but itís hard to tell if any of it will ever happen so Iíll keep it to myself.
Thanks very much to Richie for being such a good sport and his help with pics and the discography and for taking the time to give us such great records. "Hissteria" is out now and available from reliable retail outlets or direct from the label.